We Fly the Mooney Mite by Sid Goldin

This article, sent to us by Fred Ramin, is taken from the February 1950 issue of AIR TRAILS Pictorial.

The cockpit. Safe-Trim crank handle, left. Arrow points at landing gear warning flag.

YOU'RE sitting on top of the world-with a big grin that nobody can possibly see, because you're all alone at 10,000 ft. in the slickest little single-placer ever to rival the birds! That's how you feel when you fly the Mooney Mite. We know, because that's what happened to us....

As we flew the down-wind leg of the pattern in our BT-13, we scanned the tremendous parking area of Teterboro Air Terminal for a glimpse of the tiny Mooney among DC-3's, Navions and Bonanzas, but it wasn't until after we had landed and taxied back the length of the field that we spotted the neat little M-18L parked at the extreme southern end of the airport outside of the Marjorie Gray Aero Service. It reminded us of a shiny new dime among the tarnished "quarter and fifty-cent-piece" transports which dwarfed but did not outshine the diminutive Mite.

The general appearance of the M-18L is modern from prop to rudder. It is a cantilever low-wing ship with a semi-cowled Lycoming engine, sliding bubble canopy, monocoque construction fuselage, and well-proportioned tail assembly. Fillets, flaps and retractable gear add to its military design. Nothing can beat the Mooney for its compact finished look.

Mr. Bergman of Mooney Aircraft Sales wasn't present but we were given the O.K. by Miss Gray, who assured us that no elaborate check-out was necessary.

"Just get in and fly!"

We stepped easily onto the leading edge of the wing and into the cockpit of the Mite to experience one of the biggest surprises of our life. The cockpit was actually roomy - no elbow crowding, plenty of leg space and at least five inches between head and canopy.

The simple uncluttered panel of standard instruments was restful to the eye. In fact, the simplicity of the entire cockpit design betokened how easy the Mooney would be to fly. The throttle was on the left side and behind it the Safe-Trim Control for flaps and stabilizer, calibrated for take-off, climb, cruise, and landing. On the lower right-hand side in a niche was the gas shut-off valve, whose handle protruded into the cockpit in the off position. Also on the right, but under the panel, was the manually operated gear retraction handle. We fastened the safety belt with no damage to the elbows, thanks to the generous cockpit, and relaxed in the comfortable red leatherette seat. (There was plenty of extra room for a seat 'chute or back pack if desired.)

How Safe-Trim works: entire empennage hinged, has 16" travel, connected with flaps.

Cranking the prop is a one-man job in this trim little ship. No wobble is necessary because the gas tanks are mounted just behind the pilot's head in the upper forward section of the tail cone, and gravity does the job. The pilot, by standing in front of the wing on the right-hand side of the fuselage, has access to the throttle and switches with his left hand while pulling the prop through with his right. This is one safety feature among many that the M-18L offers, since it eliminates the necessity of having to stand in front of the prop. However, for convenience's sake we were given a hand in starting the engine.

"Switch on!"-and the 65 hp Lycoming purred to life. We taxied with an idling throttle after the Mite got rolling, just tickling the rudder pedals to guide the little ship onto the hard-surfaced taxi strip. The steerable nose-wheel which turns 5 degrees in either direction facilitates this job. There was a tendency to taxi too fast, since visibility is perfect and the tricycle gear rules out both "S"-ing the ship and the danger of nosing over. We parked at a "45" on the taxi strip just behind a DC-3. The pilot glanced out of his flying work-horse in our direction and we detected a look of envy.

Tuning the Motorola receiver, which rests on the floor under the left knee, to the Teterboro Tower and checking safety belt, gas, mags and trim was all that there was to it. We were already looking for things to do and we didn't even have the Mooney in the air yet! It took a little while to get used to such cockpit simplicity, especially with BT-13 flying still fresh in our minds.

"Mooney, O.K. to take off" came from the tower, and we slid the canopy forward and taxied to take-off position. Even while going through all the conventional motions prior to this moment, we were experiencing mounting excitement. With full throttle, acceleration of the Mooney was rapid due to its level attitude and gross weight of 730 lbs. The nose wheel grew light and in less than 300 ft. the ship was airborne and climbing with no leveling off to gain speed. Retracting the landing gear was the only real work to flying the Mite, and it did require quite a bit of skill and strength.

The handle works similarly to a car parking brake and the speed of retraction depends on just how fast the pilot is able to yank it up. We reached for this handle and pulled down on the gliding outer sleeve to unlock the gear, then swung the handle back in a long arc until it hit the rear stop, released the sleeve and snapped it into the up-lock position. About halfway through the arc, the handle became heavy, mostly because proper leverage could not be exerted on it in that position. However, this type of gear retracting method means no hydraulic or electrical system to add weight and maintenance expense and is worth a little extra work for the pilot. Also, with practice it was discovered that more technique and less energy did the job. The three wheels retract simultaneously; the main gear folding into the wing and the nose wheel retracting into a recess under the fuselage which forms a bump in the floor of the cockpit just ahead of the stick.

We shot up and up in a fighter-like climb. Climbing straight, we used soft right rudder to overcome the evident but easy-to-control torque. 'The angle of climb was very steep, but the airspeed indicated 70 mph, and there was plenty of control. We found out immediately that a conventional pattern in a Mooney is virtually impossible. At 400 ft., where another light airplane is beyond the airport boundary and making a first turn in the pattern, the Mooney, at the same altitude, was still directly over the airport and had several hundred feet of excess altitude when it came time for our first turn. We had heard that the Mooney, equipped with a low pitch prop, would climb to 10,000 ft. in 10 minutes, and were anxious to see if the 65 horses could pull the aerodynamically clean ship up that fast. Six minutes from take-off and 6,000 ft. later we were more than convinced, and headed for the practice area to put the M-18L through its paces. With the absolute ceiling of 25,100 ft., this Mooney can reality get up and go!

We put the Mite through every normal flight maneuver, and its response to control pressures was exceptional. Leveling off at 6,000 ft., the Safe-Trim was set for cruise and the airspeed zoomed to 108 mph indicated, which corrects to 122 mph. The pleasing sound of the exhaust noises suggested plenty of power and rpm. We jiggled the stick rapidly from side to side to feel out the ailerons, and the wings responded by rocking swiftly up and down. We rolled from a steep left turn to a steep right turn with unbelievable speed. The Mite whipped from one side of the bank to the other in simultaneous movement with the slightest stick pressure. Those ailerons aren't a bit sluggish! There was a minimum of yaw at both high and low speeds and at varying angles of attack.

Next we decided to see if the Mooney had any tricks up its wings by trying all sorts of stalls. In a power-off stall, we pulled the nose up and it seemed minutes before the little plane slowed down. Then a quivering in the stick was felt and the Mooney shuddered as the airspeed dropped below 40 mph. The nose settled through the horizon, fighting the stall all the way, and as we relaxed stick pressure, the ship recovered with very little loss of altitude.

In the power-on stall, we had to pull the nose up in a steeper attitude and correct for torque, but the result of this stall was the same. We tried cross-control stalls, high-speed stalls, stalls out of turns, stalls with flaps down and gear down, and in every case the Mooney gave plenty of warning by buffeting at the approach to the stall. Due to the right amount of wash-out in both wings, there was adequate aileron control in each stall maneuver and the wing tips were always flying. There is an ample time gap between the beginning of the buffeting and the actual stall to allow for recovery, and with added throttle, the Mooney will actually climb out of a stall. There just isn't a vicious streak in the Mite.

During the gear-up stall maneuver the landing-gear warning flag waved an admonishing finger at us, and we could tell it would be very effective in the case of a forgetful pilot throttling back on his down-wind leg. The gear warning is actually a bright red disc about 1¼ in. in diameter on the end of a 6 in. arm situated in the upper left-hand corner of the instrument panel. When the revolutions drop to around 1200, the signal is set in motion, and the pilot who sees a red spot dancing in front of his eyes is bound to know something's amiss.

This was the air partner we had al ways dreamed about. The Mooney's cooperation was complete in every way except when we tried to spin it. We throttled back but several seconds elapsed before the ship slowed to stalling speed. With stick full back and full rudder, we forced the Mite into a spiral, but it just wouldn't fall off on the wing. We repeatedly tried to spin the M-18L and only succeeded with a slow one-and-a-quarter turn from which the Mite recovered immediately when the controls were neutralized. Though we didn't have a sensitive altimeter in the plane, there seemed to be only slight loss of altitude, and recovery speed was between 70 and 80 mph. In our opinion, the Mooney is virtually spin proof.

To check control at both high and low speeds we tried Chandelles and Lazy 8's. Our first attempt at these very precise maneuvers in the M-18L came out very well. The Mooney rates 100 percent in ease of handling, and we experienced more enjoyment and less work in both the "8" and the Chandelle.

Only finger-tip control was required to make the M-18L respond to our every wish. Actually you can fly the Mooney with your little finger, and we don't mean just straight and level, either. Control forces don't build up abruptly and there is no danger of loading up the wings and getting high G-loads in flight. You always know what the Mooney is doing and it flies as if it could read your mind in slow flying, with flaps down, it hovered at 38 mph while retaining its altitude. There was no tendency to over-control as we have experienced in initial flights in other airplanes.

This flight answered a lot of questions that we ad about the ship. We had wondered if the 95 sq. ft. of wing .area would make it tricky to handle at slow speeds, or if power alone would keep it flying. Neither of these things is true. The Mooney combines all the advantages of both light and heavy planes and the disadvantages of neither. With the Mite you can have your cake and eat it too.

The directional stability of the Mooney is exceptional, and one can read maps with peace of mind on cross-country trips, with "hands off," and keep the compass heading in the bargain.

Visibility on the ground and in the air is just about tops. In flight, by leaning slightly forward, we could see straight down, and looking back we could see half the tail section. Visibility upwards was unlimited except for the small section of painted Plexiglas which acted as a shade. There are no blind spots in any important direction.

In this single-place ship you feel in close contact with the great realm of the sky, and we found the impression increased as we opened the canopy and I felt the cool air flow by the cockpit. With no human distractions in the ship, and so little effort required to fly it, I one could really concentrate on the scenery below and the vastness of the sky above.

The noise level of the M-18L is far below that of the other ships of similar horsepower without mufflers. Present production models, of which the Mooney we flew was one, are equipped with a cross-over exhaust which deadens noise and adds power. The smooth Lycoming gives out an even, pulsating sound due to this new type of exhaust system.

We would have loved to stay up longer in the Mooney but it was close to dusk, so we throttled back and spiraled down with the top wing almost vertical. Visibility was at best in this maneuver. As Teterboro Airport came into view, we leveled off and edged into the traffic pattern. We throttled back and waited for the ship to slow down to 70 mph before pushing down the gear. Turning onto the final approach, we received the O.K. to land from Teterboro Tower, and rolled the Safe-Trim to the landing position. We lined the Mite up with the runway and glided down, gently flaring out to within a few feet of the ground. We eased back on the stick. There was no floating. The main gear touched down and the ship settled onto the nose wheel.

No special technique is required to get this ship down. Landing the Mooney on the Teterboro runway was like sticking a postage stamp on a letter. Landing characteristics are excellent. The Mite isn't "hot" to handle. We applied the toe brakes and turned off at the first intersection and taxied back to our starting point. On the ground we once more became aware of just how diminutive the Mite really is.

We tested the Mooney's unique gear by taxiing over a rough portion of the parking area. The rubber shock units dampened the bumps, and the 400 x 4 tires proved their suitability to this light airplane.

Reluctantly we parked the little ship and cut the engine. There was no question in our minds but that we'd just have to fly the Mooney again. The Mite had more than lived up to our expectations. It was designed originally for a 24 hp Crosley engine and great care had been taken to keep it small and neat and clean. The forward end of the fuselage is welded tube structure, supporting the engine, nose gear, main spar, seat and tail cone. The nose to the back of the seat is metal covered. The wing and fuselage are of fabric- covered plywood construction. Being fabric covered adds to the ship's durability, and this composite structure gives the best strength/weight ratio.

Three-foot ailerons cover the outer part of the wings, while long narrow flaps extend along the remaining part of the trailing edge to the fuselage. Later models of the M-18L are planned with a spinner and enclosed cowling.

The Safe-Trim control system does not in any way restrict the controls of the ship, but it makes flying the Mooney both simple and sure. Less than three turns of the Safe-Trim handle cover the range from take-off to landing; thus it requires little effort on the part of the pilot to select the trim setting he desires. Changing the rpm does not affect the trim with this device. The entire tail section moves as a unit when the pilot selects any one of the trim settings. Flaps become effective on the climb and landing positions on the Safe-Trim.

The Mite has also been designed for easy and economical maintenance. The airplane sits low to the ground, so that both the engine and the gas tanks can be serviced from a normal standing position. All units of the landing gear give long service and are low in cost to replace. Operating cost runs between 73 cents and 84 cents per hundred miles for gas and oil.

The Mite lives up to its name with an empty weight of only 500 lbs. and a gross weight of 780 lbs., including 11 gallons of fuel, 4 quarts of oil and 40 lbs. of baggage. The span is 26 ft. 10½ in., the length, 17 ft. 7¼ in., and the height at the rudder is 6 ft. 2½ in. The M-18L we flew, was equipped with a low-pitch prop and had the following performance figures: maximum speed, 138 mph; minimum speed, 36 mph; rate of climb, 1300 ft. per minute; cruising speed, between 115 mph and 125 mph, and a range of between 390 to 440 miles with 35 to 40 miles per gallon.

Standard cockpit equipment includes airspeed indicator, altimeter, compass, tachometer, oil pressure gauge, and oil temperature gauge on the panel, and an easy-to-read fuel quantity gauge just behind the pilot's head. The baggage compartment is also behind the pilot's seat and is accessible by moving the back of the seat forward. A carburetor heater and a cabin heater are provided as standard equipment. The sliding hatch has several adjustments ranging from a small ventilation opening position to a large maximum, opening position for ease in getting in and out.

We have only three suggestions for improvements on the M-18L. First, a slightly different handle for retracting the gear, making better use of the leverage principle; second, slight depressions in the floor under the rudder pedals for the pilot's heels, so that his feet rest lower on the pedals; and third, a small window in the nose wheel well so that you can make sure that the gear is where it's supposed to be!

We feel that a pilot should have the following requirements before he takes the Mooney up for a hop: 10 hours of recent solo time, a check ride with a competent instructor in a light plane, and familiarization with the Safe-Trim device and the mechanics of retracting the landing gear.

School clubs and private flying groups will find the Mite beneficial for building solo time and pilot morale. Out-of-the-way fishing and hunting haunts are available to the flying sportsman in the M-18L, and the businessman will admire its economy and efficiency in tying together far-scattered business interests. Airline pilots who enjoy a busman's holiday couldn't want more than the Mooney has to offer.

All we can find are words of praise for the Mooney. As soon as you leave the ground the Mite comes to life. The "feel" of the ship is excellent, and yet it does not sacrifice safety for performance. The Mooney in our opinion comes nearest to perfection in the world of small planes. It costs $1995, F.A.F. Wichita, Kans., and believe us, you really get your Mooney's worth.

17 September, 2001